PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) – Petersburg police have issued a public service announcement warning people to be vigilant online after scammers were discovered posing as the city’s animal shelter on Facebook.
The scammers behind the ‘Help the Petersburg Animals’ page have taken hundreds of dollars from their victims. The admins of the page post pictures of animals they believe are up for adoption. Then when a visitor pays the fee to adopt an animal, the scammer simply takes the money without giving the victim the animal they paid for.
8News spoke to a woman who said she had fallen victim to this scam.
“The page seemed absolutely legit,” said Samantha Casey.
Casey and her family lost their dog in February and had no intention of getting another dog. One day, however, she was scrolling through Facebook and came across the fake pet adoption page, “Help the Petersburg Animals,” where she spotted a few dogs that caught her eye. Then she noticed something strange.
“There was a French bulldog and there was also an English bulldog. I spoke to my husband, he said, ‘It seems legit.’ But there was something at the bottom that said you have to pay a $250 deposit to see these dogs,” Casey said.
Casey sent the deposit to the operators of the page. She never met the dogs.
Police say there are more victims of this scam.
Animal rights activist Jill Navary said she too had been victimized. The fake adoption page was originally a page she set up and managed to help others adopt dogs from Petersburg Animal Care & Control. However, she told 8News that her page was hacked after scammers emailed her pretending to be from the popular pet adoption website Petfinder.
“I got an email from Petfinder — which I now know was fake — telling me to link my Facebook to my Petfinder account,” Navary said.
From there, the scammers gained access to multiple pages of Navary: “Friends of Henrico County VA Animal Control,” “Help the Petersburg Animals,” and “Bully Rescue & Advocacy Group.” Navary’s pages were all taken over by the scammers. One of the pages now has nearly 10,000 followers.
When asked if she went to the police about the scammers, Navary said, “I don’t know if they would care if I walked into a police station and said I was hacked on Facebook.”
Navary said she can no longer access her own pages. The pages’ locators now indicate that they are managed by accounts in Nigeria and Maryland. Navary has since created a new pet adopting page, but it’s not nearly as popular as her previous one.
As for the money people have lost as a result of the scam, Navary said she hates not being able to help.
“I’ve never heard of anyone sending anything through the donate button. Everyone followed their directions and sent via Zelle. I’m sorry, I feel terrible,” she said.
Navary said she reported the scam to Facebook and is still waiting for them to shut down the pages. Police are asking anyone with information to contact Crime Solvers at 804-861-1212, or submit a web tip.